Five students at Sussex University have been suspended following "peaceful" protests over the privatisation of campus services, prompting demonstrations to have them reinstated.
The students, who have been dubbed "The Sussex Five", were suspended and excluded by the vice-chancellor from campus on Wednesday evening following what the university calls "repeated serious disruption of campus".
The students are accused of organising or leading occupations "which have been characterised by intimidating behaviour, theft, damage and violence".
But the move has been condemned by many, including Sussex Students' Union (SSU) who told The Huffington Post UK: "The Students’ Union condemns the suspension and exclusion of all students involved, and believes that improper processes have been followed, and unjust reasons have been given for the Vice-Chancellor’s actions.
"We firmly believe in the right of students to peacefully protest against practices they deem unfair, and we condemn the intimidation of students undertaking peaceful protest action by University management."
The students, who were protesting as part of the Sussex Against Privatisation campaign, have already gained widespread solidarity, including from MPs:
@johnmcdonnellMP Ive been suspended together with 4 other Sussex students for protesting against privatisation. Could we have ur solidarity?— Adriano Mérola (@AdrianoMerola) December 4, 2013
An online petition launched to retract the suspension has received more than 6,600 signatures, while Friday marked the second day of demonstrations by Sussex students against the decision.
Adriano Marotta, one of the five, told the Guardian: "I can honestly say I did not expect this, or in any way see it coming.
"I have a doctor's appointment on Friday where I'm due to find out whether I have diabetes or not. I emailed Michael Farthing [the vice-chancellor] to get permission to go to the doctor and have had no response.
"If I go, I face being physically removed by security because I've been banned from going anywhere on campus. That doesn't just mean study facilities - but from doctors, dentists and psychological services too."
SSU insists the students have not been provided with evidence to substantiate the allegations made against them or their resulted suspension from campus.
According to Imogen Adie, an officer at SSU, the students received notification of their suspension in writing and were told their rights to access the campus and teaching had been revoked.
The university's registrar John Duffy said they "fully support" students' rights to protest lawfully but there had been a "persistent pattern" of disruptions since February.
"The university has been very clear we will not tolerate any violence, intimidation or serious disruption. Unfortunately, we have seen all three of these kinds of behaviour once more take place in connection with the recent occupation and subsequent events."
Duffy said the university had been granted a court order making it clear the occupiers had "no right" to be there.
“In the circumstances of this persistent disruption," he continued. "We feel we need to go further to ensure there is no repeat of the appalling behaviour that has characterised these events.
“Therefore, while the disciplinary process takes its course, we have suspended and excluded from campus a number of students who, in the opinion of the University, were actively organising or leading these unlawful occupations and associated events.
“They will have their opportunity to defend their actions in due course. We believe we had no other choice but to act to make it clear that activities that seriously disrupt our campus community will carry consequences.
"We have excluded these students to protect the interests of all of the students, staff and visitors who are entitled to use the campus without fear of intimidation and serious disruption."
Siobhan MacMahon, co-chair of the Young Green Party, said the decision was "shocking and unjustifiable".
"The Young Greens express our total support and solidarity for students defending their right to protest across the country and oppose the worrying trend in recent months towards disproportionate action against peaceful protest on campuses."